Sunday, April 30, 2023
May Day weekend. The streets of Rochester. Fifty teams of morris dancers cavorting with big sticks and hankies. What's not to love?
The event has its roots many centuries back. A springtime celebration by local chimney sweeps, now echoed in modern revival. These days it's a three day-er, the better to make merry. A celebration of music and dance, the folk tradition come alive. They come from all over to twirl, to play or to admire. The Mayor of Medway launches the event outside the Guildhall, the shorter her speech the better. Follow the crowds, squeeze by if you can. With permission given the bottle is uncorked, the music strikes up and the feathered men launch. They gather in primary-coloured pairs and spin and beat and flap. The 41st Rochester Sweeps Festival is underway.
The entire High Street becomes a field of dance. Every fifty yards another troupe lines up in the middle of the road, ready to perform. The musicians kick in with fiddles, drums and/or accordions. Twitching feet spring to life. Silver bells ring and tassels fly. Pairs advance and retreat. Wooden batons swish together with a rhythmic click. Arms interlock and bodies turn. Forwards, backwards, smash, repeat. Some sing, some yelp, most grin. Some will be knackered by the end of it, others not even out of breath. Each performance so very different, yet underneath so very similar.
Many dancers black their faces as if speckled by soot. It's facepaint, it's disguise, it's Goth meets Dick Van Dyke. Some go the whole hog and wear black from plumed hat to hobnail boots. Others choose green, the earthier option and less potentially problematic. But most go undaubed, eschewing black altogether for their usual Morris costume of purple, blue, gold, green or red. A lot of sewing machines have been very busy of late. Ribbons dangle, patchwork shimmers, floral garlands shine. Hats with badges, tunics with patches, headbands with posies. Traditional fancy dress rules.
Invicta Morris, Bishop Gundulfs Novices, Cockleshell Clog, Widdershin Witches - they've come from far and wide to perform here today. A motley collection of Englishfolk plucked from the everyday. Hearty men, beardy men, gawky men, men who could easily be someone's art teacher. Fierce ladies, flowery ladies, mischievous ladies, ladies who are probably retired librarians. Some of the groups are elderly, others fired up by exuberant youth. There's no maximum age for a May maiden, no minimum age for playing the fool. Everyone's an extrovert, even if only for the day. Anyone can Morris.
There's often a quirk. Royal Liberty Morris thwack scaffolding poles, not wood. They're from Hornchurch, they're in blue, they practice every Thursday. Their prime mover has a vibrant mohawk. Their molly has a thick white beard and wears a pink petticoat. This all feels perfectly normal once you've stood in Rochester for long enough. When each team's dance is over another swiftly takes its place in the street. There's time aplenty between performances to drink, and eat, and drink again. Pewter tankards and plastic tumblers froth with ale or cider. Old friends quaff together, new friends swap tales over a pint.
The fair has turned up in the grounds of the castle. The cathedral welcomes a stream of plainly pagan visitors. Multiple music stages around the town showcase all shades of folk. Settle back with a beer and burger and enjoy trad or contemporary, Celtic or indie, bluegrass or roots. Lyrics may be traditional, may be witty or may be a paean to the working man. Next up might be Tangled Elbow, The Beard Conspiracy or the Washed Up Jug Band. And the High Street keenly embraces the footfall the spectacle brings, not least the hangers-on dragged here by their parents and the old legs in need of a sit down.
As the day goes on the atmosphere gets noticeably merrier. The centre of town has become a hedonistic pseudo-heathen social club, and still they play, and still they dance. And they'll do it all again on Sunday, and again on Monday, as Rochester's Maytide mayhem continues. The first of the month will kick off at dawn on Blue Bell Hill with a gathering to awaken the Jack-in-the Green. This cloak of leaves, topped off with a flowery ring, will then join the party in the town and eventually lead the closing parade to the castle gardens. It's always a fortuitous year when the Rochester Sweeps Festival peaks on Monday May 1st. And there's still time to join the merry throng.
Five other May Day weekend events
• Hastings: Jack In The Green (unforgettable)
• Little Venice: Canalway Cavalcade (floatastic)
• Oxford: May Morning (choral-led)
• Padstow: Obby Oss festival (snappy)
• Trafalgar Square: May Day rally (solidarity)
...and your local Morris dawn gathering
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, April 29, 2023Peripheral Postcodes: IG9
IG9 is the postcode for Buckhurst Hill, which is in Essex, indeed the TOWIE-est corner of the county. But it overspills marginally into London, twice, so I've had to go there as part of my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year. A simple trip to the Underground's least-used station would have sufficed, but instead I wandered round both chunks to see what The Only Way Is Almost Essex looks like. [map]
The first chunk lies just to the south of Roding Valley station where five streets and a rugby club find themselves the wrong side of the IG8/IG9 boundary. It's properly suburban out here, all semis and bungalows, plus some quirky postmodern Tudorbethan terraces that scream Essex despite not quite being within it. Hillside Avenue stretches all the way from Woodford, unusually with eighteen separate brief cul-de-sacs branching off. Cherry Tree Rise correctly has a cherry tree at the foot of it, this being the only time of year I could tell for certain. Hawthorn Road bends contrary to the usual rules of T-junctions. And on Durham Avenue the odd thing is that certain seemingly-random neighbours are in a different postcode district to each other, it turns out for good reason.
For decades the Woodford/Chigwell border ambled in a straightish line across a field adjacent to the River Roding, inconveniencing nobody. Then in the 1930s these meadows were turned over to housing instead with general disregard for the underlying administrative subdivision. But the anomaly gained more import in 1965 when it suddenly became the edge of the capital, so in 1995 legislation redrew the boundary hereabouts to follow the river and the railway instead. Complete streets now found themselves in London, which made total sense, but the Royal Mail had based their postcodes on the original divide and saw no need to change.
Roding Valley station now lies entirely within Essex, but if you walk off the southern platform you walk straight into London which means Station Approach is very much within today's sphere of interest. It has one house and a small factory which since 1958 has been making... blimey, mission-critical fasteners. They're JP Aero, suppliers to the military, medical, nuclear and aerospace industries "whether you need a hundred, a thousand, or a million". Their website tells us that "rivet fasteners include semi-tubular, solid, blind, split and drive", and also that "fasteners that secure the wings must be able to hold the weight of the entire aircraft", and I feel like I've learned something just by being here.
There are parades of shops on both sides of the station, with the majority of the useful ones (post office, chemist, dog groomers, quilting supplies) being on the Essex side. But the official Station Parade is across the tracks in London IG9 and that's more holistic and financial, for which read duller, other than the shop at the end with the big skip outside. This is May of London, the local gunsmiths, who can't sell you a Deluxe Sideplate Hand Engraved Sporter Shotgun or a box of Standard Velocity bullets at present because they're doing up the shop. But come back on 9th May and they promise to be open again, so we can all drop off our firearms in secure storage at the very reasonable rate of £3.50 per week.
A meander in the Roding, and its tendency to flood, means that half of this postcode enclave is used for playing sport. Bancroft Rugby Club describe themselves as friendly and vibrant, have some particularly thriving youth teams and play in the Essex league despite their location. A flick through their Instagram feed suggests they've guided several boys and girls to senior level and equally aren't averse to laddish suckling bants while on tour. And for its final point of interest, this patch of IG9 is served by route 549, which as of today is London's very last five-hundred-and-something bus. But because it only runs every 90 minutes you're better off coming via the least-used tube station instead, and now perhaps you see why so few do.
The other chunk of IG9 straddles the High Road at the northern tip of Woodford Green. The houses are bigger here and also more quintessentially Buckhurst Hill, which essentially they very nearly are. Again the Greater London boundary cuts through adrift from any obvious reference point so the trick is to look for Redbridge street signs, ideally those with the IG9 postcode helpfully listed in the top right-hand corner. I walked here through Knighton Wood and Lords Bushes following what used to be Monkhams Lane, a delightfully thick leftover from Epping Forest, which might well have become multiple IG9 addresses had the City of London not thankfully preserved it.
If you know the High Road we're just north of Bancrofts School and just beyond the fork in the road where the Loughton bypass bears off. IG9 starts once the trees stop, so includes the classy postwar flats and the northbound bus stop, but once you're past that Essex begins instead. Beech Lane is swish and Greater London on one side, and terraced and East Anglia on the other. I spotted one house with bins for both local authorities out front, perhaps confused about collection day, perhaps just hedging their bets. I also felt particularly sorry for residents of Tilney Drive, a cul-de-sac that's been designated part of the Low Emission Zone despite being on the very edge of the capital, so is about to become an isolated few metres of ULEZ in a few months time.
Whitehall Lane contains a huge old mansion that's been here a while and a lot of later sequential infill. I suspect a lot of architects have been paid a lot of money to make a few frontages a lot more ostentatious. I think I'd be embarrassed to live in a street called Brancepeth Gardens but I doubt the residents are. I can also advise TfL's Bus Squad, if they're reading, that the missing nameplate for the Newlands Road bus shelter has been abandoned on the edge of the floral roundabout at the end of Almonds Avenue. It's all going on in London IG9, a peripheral postcode where a whole load of nothing much is the order of the day.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, April 28, 202301:00 There are two big bus stories today.
One is the extinguishing of four bus routes in central London.
The other has not yet been announced.
If you were trusted media you'd have been sent the second story last night. This would have given you sufficient time to write up your own version ready to publish at the officially-designated time this morning. You'd have lifted a few choice phrases from what you were given, tweaked the substance so it had your voice, added some of the photos and graphics provided, cut and pasted a few quotes from the Mayor and other transport officials, then set your story to appear the second the embargo was lifted.
I am not trusted media so I haven't seen the press release and I can't tell you what it contains.
Oh to be on the trusted media list. You receive top notch exclusives on a regular basis, always with sufficient forewarning to be able to knock up a thoughtful detail-packed piece of writing. You get to look like you're breaking the news, at least to your own followers, whereas in fact the story has been dripfed to multiple outlets to generate maximum simultaneous publicity. And TfL kindly hold back on publishing the story on their own press release portal, often for a few hours, so it appears that you as a journalist are doing your own bespoke work.
Friday isn't normally a day for significant transport announcements so it would be cynical of me to suggest that this bus story has been timed to keep the other bus story out of the news. While correspondents are busy feeding on the juicy fish fed to them last night they are not writing stories about the demise of key bus routes and the contraction of the network. Indeed TfL never published a press release about the implementation of the Central London Bus Review so many of the lazier media outlets have never mentioned it, preferring to focus only on the upbeat on-brand messages they've been spoonfed by the press office instead.
Today we do not mention the dead bus routes, only the super new shiny ones.
Await permission to be told.
06:00 The time has arrived.
The embargo has been lifted.
The consultation has appeared.
The story has been released by trusted media.
But no official press release has yet appeared.
Londonist: Superloop Update: TfL Reveals Maps Of Planned New Bus Routes [06:00]
Ian Visits: Detailed maps of London’s Superloop bus service released [06:00]
This is Local London: Sadiq Khans Superloop: Bromley and West Croydon bus routes [06:00]
LondonWorld: TfL Superloop: A closer look at Sadiq Khan’s proposed bus service with new maps [06:00]
Bus & Coach Buyer: London Superloop maps revealed [06:00]
Evening Standard: New details about London’s Superloop bus route revealed [06:33]
Harrow Online: TfL releases new Superloop info including detailed Harrow route [07:01]
BBC News: Superloop bus maps revealed as consultation begins [08:20]
Top toady points to This is Local London and LondonWorld for directly attributing the Superloop to the Mayor.
Kudos to Ross Lydall at the Evening Standard for slipping in that today is also the last day for three conventional routes "under Mayor Sadiq Khan’s cost-cutting plans".
The press release has revealed the route numbers the five new Superloop routes will use and also their proposed endpoints.
X183 (Harrow to Finchley)
X34 (Finchley to Walthamstow)
X123 (Walthamstow to Royal Docks)
X269 (Bexleyheath to Bromley)
X119 (Bromley to Croydon)
The press release also includes 'sector maps' which reveal places each route might stop along the way.
X183: Harrow → Kenton (for Northwick Park Hospital) → Kingsbury → Hendon → Finchley Central → North Finchley
X34: North Finchley → New Southgate → Arnos Grove → North Middlesex Hospital → Silver Street → Walthamstow Central
X123: Walthamstow Central → Gants Hill → Ilford → Barking → Royal Docks
X269: Bexleyheath → Sidcup → Queen Mary's Hospital → Chislehurst → Bickley → Bromley
X119: Bromley → West Wickham → Sandilands → East Croydon → West Croydon
Most of these places were revealed in the initial Superloop press release a month ago - only the underlined stops are new. But dripfeeding the information means TfL get two whammy headlines out of the same story, because that's press management for you.
The consultation for route X183 contains much fuller details, including frequencies and all the proposed stops.
X183: Harrow bus station → Kenton station → Kenton Lane → Charlton Road → Kingsbury station → Roe Green → West Hendon → Hendon station → Hendon Central station → The Quadrant → Finchley Central station → North Finchley bus station
Twelve stops from Harrow to North Finchley is a proper express service so it sounds like being dead useful locally. However Kenton station is a fair hike from Northwick Park Hospital, so I dispute the top-level claim that the X183 will properly serve the hospital.
A map has been produced to show how the X183 will overlap with existing routes 183 and 125. It's actually a pretty good map for a change (other than not showing the proposed stops on the express route).
A second map shows all 37 routes which will overlap with route X183. It's an amazing map, not least because they've used a different colour for each route, and is more an attempt at showing off than being practical. But it is possibly the most complex bus map TfL have produced since they stopped printing them seven years ago, so they can do it, and if you're a regular traveller in northwest London you might find it useful.
n.b. The consultation and press release both claim that the X183 will connect with 38 other routes, but the key on this second map suggests they've included the X183 in that total so it's really only 37.
n.b. TfL no longer produce a spider map for Harrow, indeed if you wander round busy Harrow bus station you won't find a bus map anywhere. Hopefully the arrival of the X183 will inspire TfL to amend this lamentable omission.
• The X183 will run every 12 minutes Monday to Saturday. That's maybe not too long to wait for a fast bus, but sometimes jumping aboard the ordinary 183 or 125 will be quicker.
• TfL also propose to cut the frequency of route 183 from eight buses an hour to six. That shouldn't be a problem if you live between Harrow and Hendon where the 183 and X183 double up, but it's a disappointing worsening of service between Pinner and Harrow.
...and what nobody who's been sent the press release has mentioned is the important news tucked away in the consultation's FAQ, which is that the X183 won't be operating before spring 2024. Even this is dependent on "the outcome of this consultation, further feasibility and commercial terms", so the much-vaunted X183 may not be expressly shuttling by this time next year. Meanwhile the X34, X119, X123 and X269 aren't even at the consultation stage yet, so don't get your Superloop hopes too high, but do expect a regular volley of upbeat press releases as plans progress.
09:00 Trusted media now have another new TfL story to report - the news that Kentish Town tube station will close for "up to a year" from June 26th so its escalators can be overhauled. The news has not yet appeared on TfL's bespoke press release page, where the Superloop story is also still missing.
10:03 The Mayor is now tweeting about the Superloop. "We’re excited to be kicking off the Superloop journey with new detailed maps of proposed stops on six of the routes. See for yourself where the buses will be stopping and how the Superloop will make it quicker and easier to get around our city ⬇️" I don't believe the Mayor writes all his own tweets.
10:22 The Kentish Town press release has appeared, and MyLondon have finally written their Superloop news story.
12:20 The Mayor has tweeted again with a link that purports to "find your closest stop". It fails to do so unless you live in a borough the Superloop serves, and even then only shows you a graphic so you can find it yourself, approximately, so as novelties go it's interesting but lazy.
13:30 The Mayor is now retweeting trusted media who wrote about the Superloop story... based on the press release TfL originally fed them. Such is the virtuous circle of incestuous media management.
16:00-ish The Superloop press release is finally available for the general public (and untrusted media) to read what trusted media told them ten hours ago.
posted 01:00 :
Thursday, April 27, 2023You cannot park, unload or deliver outside my house.
Such are the downsides, and the upsides, of living on a red route.
It made life a bit awkward when I moved in. The removal driver chose to park his van up on the pavement, which was probably illegal but nobody seemed to mind quite so much back then. But it's got much harder to park round here since the turn of the century, not least thanks to the shoehorning in of a segregated cycle superhighway, and I'm increasingly uncertain what'd happen if I ever had to move out.
Bow Road is the A11, hence a red route, which is why parking isn't generally allowed along it. Just down the road is the A12, ditto, indeed that's so parking-unfriendly it was once classified as a motorway. The McDonald's drive-thru car park by the Bow Roundabout is for customers only, including the stipulation that "drivers and passengers must remain on the premises", with a £100 if they catch you breaching the rules. Fairfield Road has on-street parking but it's a four minute walk away and residents permits only, so no use either. The only closer road is Payne Road, a brief runty loop round McDonalds which is mostly double yellow lines and permit-only bays. And now I see they're bringing in a new stopping order to make even Payne Road delivery-unfriendly, which in an increasingly delivery-focused economy is pretty awkward.
Red routes are thankfully always provided with 'loading boxes' marked on the road where deliveries are permitted at certain times. Our local one is on the approach to the Bow Roundabout, occupying one lane, but can only be used during off-peak hours. Arrive between 10am and 4pm or overnight, or any time on Sundays, and you're allowed to stop for 20 minutes. This is great as far as it goes, except it can be difficult to tie down a delivery to only happen during the permitted times. Also there's only room for two vehicles, or one if it's a truck, so if your delivery turns up and it's full you are essentially buggered. Two spaces may have been deemed sufficient ten years ago, but another 122 flats have been built in this parking desert since then and it's hardly enough to go round.
What a lot of delivery drivers do is pull into the notch outside Bow Baptist Church on Payne Road and unload on the yellow lines there. It's out of the main flow of traffic, hence not generally an obstruction, so loading and unloading is legally permitted for a maximum of 40 minutes. But now I see Tower Hamlets council are proposing "Access to Church, introduce No Loading At Any Time", as just announced in a laminated sign tied to a signpost, so even that option is to be taken away from us. It's a much-abused space parking-wise so I can see why they're doing it. But after 21 days they could be back to paint double chevrons on the kerbside and that'll be our informal delivery option permanently withdrawn.
Loading and unloading is permitted on single and double yellow lines for a maximum of 40 minutes if loading is observed. You must not cause an obstruction and ensure that there is no loading ban. Where there is a loading ban, in addition to parking restrictions, you will see yellow stripes (chevrons) on the kerb. Double stripes are indicate that loading and unloading is not permitted AT ANY TIME and will have an accompanying timeplate. Single stripes mean no loading and unloading during certain times and will also have an accompanying time plate. All commercial deliveries and collections (including multi-drop and couriers) are included in the exemption.Back in 2019, for tediously annoying reasons. I needed to replace my gas cooker with a electric one. They turned up, spotted I lived on a red route and gave up. I rebooked, pointing out that two delivery spaces were available during certain times, but on arrival they told me switching from gas to electric would take a lot longer than 20 minutes so bad luck. I rebooked, suggesting turning up ridiculous early on a Sunday to avoid the traffic wardens and thankfully they agreed otherwise I'd still be without hot food. But they only did it by using the pull-in on Payne Road and soon that won't be officially possible, or at least not legally.
Because that's the other peril of living round here, the local parking enforcement officers are actually based at this end of Bow Road inside a Metropolitan Police facility. Risk parking somewhere you shouldn't for even a couple of minutes and these uncheery souls could walk straight out on duty and nab you, or indeed on their return to base, so your chance of being fined here is unusually high. It's not as high as if cameras were being used to detect infractions, so at least we're not yet at peak Parking Fine Slappability. But everything about loading and unloading round my way is difficult, and annoyingly increasingly so.
I suspect this is much more an inner city problem than for those in the suburbs or provinces where off-street parking is more widely available. At least in urban areas receiving deliveries by bike or moped is more the norm and they don't have the same parking issues, but that still doesn't help when what's arriving is an appliance, two weeks' shopping or all your worldly belongings. Then there's the ongoing emergence of draconian parking restrictions on private housing developments, where entire streets are now plastered with scary signs warning of £100 fines imposed by unseen guardians if you even dare to pause your engine. Deliveries sometimes come with a whopping unexpected additional cost.
If the future of retail is delivery then we need better unloading options, or at least more consideration of where a van might park when imposing additional restrictions. Drivers will always find somewhere to stop because their livelihoods depend on it, but for some of us receiving deliveries is getting inexorably incrementally inconveniently harder.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, April 26, 2023At the end of this week sixteen central London bus routes are being tweaked, diverted or in four cases downright scrapped. I've already ridden the severed 11, the renumbered 16 and the doomed 507, which just leaves time to ride the imminently-deceased 521. It'll be missed, but only for a few hours a day.
The 521 isn't an original Red Arrow, it morphed out of the 501 and 513 in 1992, but it is one of the last two routes standing. It exists primarily to serve commuters arriving at Waterloo or London Bridge who need to get to work somewhere between Holborn and St Paul's, for whom there is no direct tube connection. Before the pandemic it was London's most frequent bus, firing out another spacious single decker every 2 minutes to cope with peak time demand. But a route that runs mostly empty most of the time can no longer be justified, especially now that working patterns have changed, so it's been decreed that the 521 is no longer needed. Its withdrawal will also leave one key London road unserved... but we'll get to that.
In mitigation TfL are changing the endpoints of two other bus routes in an attempt to hoover up custom. The 59 will now terminate at St Barts rather than Euston, thereby becoming the new alternative for the Waterloo contingent, while the London Bridge crowd are being nudged onto the 133 which will terminate at Holborn rather than Liverpool Street. It might work, or it might be the case that less frequent double deckers that have come all the way from Streatham won't be capable of absorbing passengers at the busiest times.
I hope you like my summary map. It may be seriously lo-fi but it is better than any map TfL have created because all of theirs obsess about where to change buses rather than providing an overview of what the hell's going on.
Route 521: Waterloo to London Bridge
Location: London central
Length of bus journey: 3 miles, 40 minutes
Frequency: every 5 mins peak, 10 mins off-peak
Don't let anyone tell you that commuting is extinct. The Waterloo & City line is still packed bums-to-the doors each morning with queues two abreast to get onto the platforms, and its single decker equivalent continues to be remarkably popular, even in its final week. I was not expecting this.
The 521 has pride of place outside Waterloo station, taking prime position immediately outside a bespoke subway exit. It has one stop but two shelters and two separate queues, this because access is still permitted via the middle doors to speed up boarding. And oh my word those queues are long, not to mention immaculately behaved, should you arrive during the period of peak transfer. This is the sight that met me at half past eight, with at least 25 people ahead of me in both queues and very soon a similar number added on behind, most of whom would fail to board first time round. Seriously, I thought, they're withdrawing this?
Someone else has thought the same and stuck a 'Keep the 521 Bus Route Going!' poster on one of the shelters. Apparently it leads to a petition but when I hovered over the QR code I merely ended up on a page that wanted me to enter log-in details, so the attempt, although well-meaning, is both impractical as well as futile.
As an example of how well the 521 works, not only did I squeeze aboard the first bus but I also got a seat. There aren't many seats but it seems a lot of people prefer to stand, plus they were all getting off sooner than we seated folk. A 59 pulled up alongside us as we departed and I doubt I'd have crammed aboard that, plus absolutely nobody would have got a seat, so good luck next week. On departure our passengers settled into reading emails, watching videos, applying lipbalm and shuffling Spotify. It's not really a Metro-opening environment, plus most passengers had already had a rail journey to devour that.
Within a couple of minutes we were on Waterloo Bridge (along with a dozen other bus routes, so rest assured the 521's withdrawal won't sever north from south). The view (if you can see it) is outstanding, from glittering towers at Westminster to the classical dome of St Paul's, not to mention boats on the Thames and plane trees coming into leaf on the Victoria Embankment. What's more we didn't have to join the crawl up to Aldwych because the 521 is the sole route which gets to use the Strand Underpass. This brilliant shortcut was opened in 1964 taking advantage of the defunct Kingsway Tramway Subway, enabling northbound passengers to enjoy a weaving swoosh through a dimly-lit grey-walled box. A double decker would lose its top deck if it tried, hence this unique 400m experience falls off the London bus map as of Saturday.
The prime benefit of taking the underpass is that it skips two bus stops and two sets of traffic lights so we got to Holborn station in eight minutes flat. Approximately half our passengers alighted here, and it struck me they'd plumped for a ride on the 521 purely because it gets here quicker. They won't be left bereft next week when the 521 is scrapped because six other routes connect Waterloo to Holborn, but they will have a slower journey every morning forever.
Next came the eastward turn into High Holborn, but only eventually because the gyratory around Central St Martin's was against us. We were now picking up a few passengers who weren't heading to work, these being the staple load of the 521 between the peaks, but at this time of day they're still very much outnumbered. The buses going the other way, however, looked virtually empty because hardly anyone wanted to go back to Waterloo, and that's why the 521 spends most of its time transporting empty space.
On we headed, disgorging passengers at Chancery Lane, Fetter Lane and Holborn Circus until we were mostly empty space too. Next week the diverted 59 will be terminating approximately here alongside St Barts hospital. That means the vast majority of the 521's current passengers simply need to know to catch the 59 from Waterloo and that'll take them where they want to go. All of TfL's publicity, however, focuses on the need to change from the 59 to the 133 at Holborn Viaduct, which from my observations hardly anyone will need to do.
By King Edward Street, 20 minutes in, I think I was the last of the Waterloo boarders left. That may have been because anyone needing the next bit would have been better off aboard the Waterloo & City line or may have been because they knew what was coming next, which was a painfully slow meander through the City. The full length of Angel Street is currently under scaffolding while the adjacent site is transformed, sending eastbound buses on a jammed Barbican-ward detour and blighting multiple journeys for years. It took us 12 minutes to get from one side of St Paul's Cathedral to the other, essentially clogging up vehicles that could have been doing useful work elsewhere.
During the final five minutes we ticked off Mansion House, Cannon Street and Monument stations, plus the new exit from Bank. We four remaining passengers now had acres of space each, whereas it was the 521s heading in the opposite direction which were properly moving people. Crossing London Bridge the views were again splendid - the kind tourists fly to London for - and then we filtered smoothly into London Bridge bus station 'where this bus terminates'. Plenty of people were waiting to head back the other way but the real queues were for route 149 towards Liverpool Street... an astonishing 70 commuters were waiting to board that.
From next week TfL expect the 521's former passengers to board the 133 instead because that'll go to Holborn. But it won't depart from the bus station, they'll have to walk down to the main road and cross at the lights to the southern end of London Bridge and catch it there, because such is the price for TfL saving some money. It may be adequate mitigation but it doesn't hide the fact that withdrawing a bus route always makes life harder for someone however you try and dress it up. If you currently ride the 521 (or 507, or 16, or 11, or any of the other routes about to be made worse), your pain is helping to keep the rest of our fares down.
posted 05:21 :
Tuesday, April 25, 2023Pretty much every station in London gets at least a half-hourly service.
That's a pretty good transport offering.
Turn up off-peak midweek and you'll never have more than 30 minutes to wait.
Except that is at five unfortunate stations.
All of them on National Rail.
Trains run hourly
Sanderstead and Riddlesdown stations
Trains to Uckfield bear off the Brighton line at South Croydon, but only once an hour. Commuters from Crowborough and East Grinstead get a better service in the rush hour but off-peak they need to plan their travel carefully because trains are only hourly. Within Greater London the only stations affected are Sanderstead and Riddlesdown. In good news Sanderstead is really close to Purley Oaks and that has a half-hourly service (although in bad news, neither Sanderstead nor Purley Oaks stations are particularly close to Sanderstead). As for Riddlesdown, it may only be half a mile away from Kenley station but one glance at a map with contours should tell you it's not a walk to undertake lightly. Bad luck Sanderstead and Riddlesdown, you have the least frequent train service south of the river.
Sudbury Hill Harrow and Northolt Park stations
For a properly poor service by London standards you need to be on Chiltern. Their tracks out of Marylebone have to cope with fast trains to Birmingham, intermediate services and slow stoppers, so commuters within Greater London generally lose out. Only Wembley Stadium gets a half hourly service, and then not always. South Ruislip and West Ruislip get an hourly service but because they have an abundance of Central line trains their overall frequency is quite good. The two stations with a genuine hourly service are Sudbury Hill Harrow and Northolt Park, both of which are perched on the divide between Harrow and Ealing. The mouthful that is 'Sudbury Hill Harrow' at least has a Piccadilly line station two minutes up the road, whereas Northolt Park is somewhat adrift being a ten minute walk from South Harrow tube. But they're by no means the worst served in London, because that's the next station down the line...
Trains run less than hourly
Sudbury & Harrow Road station
Sudbury & Harrow Road is a ridiculously poorly-served station by London standards. It gets four trains towards Marylebone in the morning and three back, and that's all. Nothing inbetween, nothing against the flow and nothing at weekends. No other station comes close in terms of timetable abandonment.
Trains from SUDBURY AND HARROW ROAD Eastbound (to Marylebone) Westbound (to West Ruislip) 0702 0804 0910 1044 1639 1815 2011 (no trains Saturday or Sunday)
For those commuting into town in the morning the hourly spacing is almost practical, but timing the end of your working day for one of the three return services must be much harder. Amazingly it's not London's least used station, nor even the second least used, those places being taken by Drayton Green and South Greenford respectively. But whereas they both get 32 trains a day in each direction, Sudbury & Harrow Road only gets 35 trains A WEEK in both.
Again there's a Piccadilly line station to take the strain, the glorious Sudbury Town whose sleek boxy splendour is but a few minutes walk away. But whereas the tube is half an hour from the West End via a roundabout route the Chiltern service takes just 13 minutes to Marylebone so ought to be by far the more attractive option. Alas not. And this is no tumbleweed location - bus route 18 terminates immediately outside Sudbury & Harrow Road station and that's officially the busiest route in London. Step one way for packed buses, step the other way for empty platforms.
The entrance to the station is a tarmac funnel leading to two card readers and a posterboard. No electronic train indicator has been provided, only a dissected timetable, so the only way to find out if the next train's been delayed or cancelled is to head up to the platforms. A semi-glum passage leads under the tracks to a semi-precipitous staircase that climbs between the platforms, watched over at all times by CCTV because it's been years since anyone wasted cash on providing staff in the flesh. A stark blue shelter is provided as somewhere to wait, though nowhere you'd particularly want to linger for potentially two hours between trains. Trains occasionally rush by, far more frequently than they stop, so the yellow lines down each platform are important. The view is better than the service, and even that does not sustain.
A new timetable starts on 21st May, part of a complete reshuffle of Chiltern times and trains.
Trains from SUDBURY AND HARROW ROAD Eastbound (to Marylebone) Westbound (to West Ruislip) 0642 0812 0912 1019 1637 1737 1837 1933 (no trains Saturday or Sunday)
The gaps between trains will be better spaced, but the times of some services are so different to what's gone before that passengers may have to completely revise their commute. What's more there's a whole new extra train in the evenings, finally filling that pesky half past seven gap, which has got to make the station more attractive. And that makes eight trains a day rather than seven, i.e. a massive forty trains a week, a full-on 14% increase. But that'll still leave Sudbury & Harrow Road as by far the least served station in Greater London, adrift by a country mile, and no sign that e'er the twain will meet.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, April 24, 2023Cabinet quiz
Here are clues to the names of the 23 people in the Cabinet.
How many can you identify?
1) star & top two playing cards 2) advise shuffle
3) a hero compared to her
4) Attila junction
5) a very big step
6) completed 50 north
7) Cumbrian fells
8) doesn't sound like tea
9) downed awkwardly
10) excellent divider
13) intimidate greatly?
14) move 8th May
15) naughty Mr Powell
16) not false
17) plays stringed instrument
18) pressure on Vice President
19) singular banker
20) snooker equipment
21) sodium nerd returns
22) we're all doomed!
23) with intelligence
All answers now in the comments box.
posted 15:00 :
30 things that happened yesterday
I made a bowl of porridge. Proper spring is a long time coming this year.
I binned some wilted daffodils. That's probably it for daffs this year.
I did not go to the London Marathon. It was wet and I have been before.
I received three emails from someone telling me I was wrong. They were also wrong.
I found this chocolate biscuit wrapper. I bloody loved Trios.
I did not celebrate St George's Day. I imagine a Toby Carvery is the place to go.
I completed the Guardian prize crossword. I still have no idea what the theme is.
I caught a train from Putney station. That's another 2023 challenge completed.
I watched a John Betjeman 'aerial anthology' from 1977. It was nostalgically evocative.
I cooked some breadcrumbed fish. I couldn't tell if it was one fish or bits of several.
I walked the length of Dorset Road. I could not afford to live there.
I received an emergency alert. It was loud and approximately 40 seconds early.
I was on a bus with a wheelchair and a double buggy. They managed to coexist.
I received two phone calls from France. I was glad I wasn't paying.
I learned about Soapsud Island. I will not bore you by blogging about it.
I unwrapped a mini-Toblerone. I decided to have the dark chocolate.
I took a Stephen King anthology to Kingston Vale. I skipped two stories.
I admired a lot of blossom. It would have been more admirable in better weather.
I tried not to scratch. It's easier said than done.
I could not see the Next Train Indicator because it was obscured. By cretins.
I filled in my spreadsheet. Alice is now tying for the lead with Brian.
I think my problem is finally a problem. So far an empty can is dealing with it.
I picked up a Creme Egg but put it back down again. Best not overdo it.
I crossed the road on red. One day this may kill me but so far so good.
I saw this sign in Roehampton. Two compass directions is unusual but not unique.
I consented to midweek beers. I expect to feel under-dressed.
I went looking for my Cub Scout Handbook. I can't remember where I put it.
I dropped three penne. This doesn't normally happen with the conchiglie.
I compiled a quiz. You might want to have a go later.
I wrote a minimalist blogpost. You'd have been bored by the alternative.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, April 23, 2023The first time I checked, the first street in London was Abberley Mews in Clapham SW4 and the last street was Zoffany Street in Upper Holloway N19. Then they built more streets.
The last time I checked, the first street in London was Aaron Hill Road in Beckton E6 and the last street was Zulu Mews in Battersea SW11. I think it's unlikely anything has ousted Aaron and Zulu since.
But what if I interpret 'alphabetical order' differently? Then maybe the first street in London is this.
Alpha Grove - Isle of Dogs E14 (map)
Alpha Grove is a long straight street on the western side of the Isle of Dogs. That's the Millwall side, not the Cubitt Town side, for those familiar with the residential hinterland beyond the docks and commercial towers. It's been here since the late 19th century when a wodge of streets was built to house those working in the docks and was originally called Alpha Road. Being closest to the dockside it got the foremen and better-paid workers, so was mostly respectable, whereas streets a bit further away tended to get the rowdy casual labourers instead. The name change to Alpha Grove came in 1939 when the Port of London Authority swallowed up the northern end of the street to make way for a dock extension. You could once have stood here and enjoyed the classic tableau of a row of terraced houses with a whopping great ship at the end of the street, and now look at it.
Many of the houses didn't survive the Blitz, London's docklands being pretty much the epicentre. St Luke's was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished and a 'temporary' church built in the grounds, which then remained in use for the next fifty years. One of the London County Council's last decisions was to sweep away most of the streets hereabouts to create the Barkantine Estate, replacing terraces and Nissen huts with rows of social housing, mostly flats. They are at least varied, if somewhat plain, occasionally brightened by the front gardens gifted to more fortunate residents. And if the northeastern end of the street looks a little different - more clumpy than terraced - that's because it had to be rebuilt following the Docklands bombing in 1996.
The newest building in Alpha Grove is the replacement St Luke's Church, now five years old. It's a chunky modern building that somehow resembles a small school, with what could be an assembly hall jutting out on the first floor and a very tall, very thin spire perched on top. They are not currently running an Alpha Course, which seems a missed opportunity. The oldest building in the street, indeed the only prewar survivor, is another place of worship - the former Methodist church on the corner of Malabar Street. This is now the Alpha Grove Community Centre, a hub for charities, support services, education and the obligatory foodbank. This remains one of the more deprived neighbourhoods in London, which seems somewhat ridiculous when literally a stone's throw away are the gleaming towers of New Docklands. But Alpha Grove's place has always been on the faultline between poverty and commerce, which originally meant granaries and warehouses and now means concierged stacks for bonused bankers.
This being the Isle of Dogs the backstory of Alpha Grove is well documented online, in this case on the excellent Island History website where the post "Everything you wanted to know about Alpha Grove but were afraid to ask" is well titled. I've only shown you three photos but that page has over 50! The origin of the name Alpha Grove is however unclear, there being no Beta, Gamma or Delta nearby, only Strafford, Janet and Havannah. But there is an Omega Close, a much more modern addition just round the corner off Tiller Road, which alas resembles a drab courtyard with some flats around it. And we can do better than Omega Close...
Omega Street - New Cross SE14 (map)
But not much better. Omega Street is a brief road off the beaten track on the Tanners Hill Estate, not too far from New Cross station. Things look historically promising as you bear off the New Cross Road via some fine Georgian terraces or a brief run of plainly throwback shops. But the flats start in abundance just after the Royal Standard pub, and as the land climbs towards the railway it's social housing all the way. The high ground is taken by Heston House, a prewar horseshoe packed with what were once deemed to be luxury flats, joined later by Deloraine House on the site of a sewing machine factory. Omega Street is later, lower and shorter, and was originally called Florence Street East, a mere offshoot of a longer road and originally had just seven houses to its name. They're all gone.
Today Omega Street is very much a road of two halves, the Odds on one side and the Evens on the other. The Evens live in a single long block with a communal balcony, the upper flats accessed via narrow stairwells between the lower. I noticed that one of the Evens has shoved their fridge freezer out onto the walkway, although I didn't trot up to check if it was plugged in. The Odds meanwhile live in angular homes staggered around a shrubby courtyard garden, all of which are accessed via a single entrance facing onto Heald Street, and I supect they've got the better deal. LOUD BLARING SIREN NOISE! WOO! WOO! WOO! WOO! This is a test of Emergency Alerts, a new UK government service that will warn you if there’s a life-threatening emergency nearby. LOUD BLARING SIREN NOISE! WOO! WOO! WOO! WOO! This is a test. You do not need to take any action. LOUD BLARING SIREN NOISE! WOO! WOO! WOO! WOO! Indeed the Evens need never enter Omega Street at all, despite that notionally being their address, such are the anomalies of what may be London's ultimate street.
I have of course taken enormous liberties in describing these as the first and last streets in London based solely on the Greek letters in their names. It's somewhat dubious to rank streets half in one language and half in another, especially when multiple Alphas and Omegas exist. Perhaps I should have gone to Alpha Close in Marylebone instead - it even has a bus stop named after it - because 'Close' definitely comes before 'Grove' in alphabetical order.
My argument is that I'm considering the Greek form of the street name, and that means in my ranking Άλσος (Grove) comes much earlier in the alphabet than Τέλος (Close). Muddying the waters further are Alpha Place (which runs alongside Kilburn Park tube station) and at least six examples of Alpha Road, but after translating those I still reckon Άλσος (Grove) is the winner.
α Άλσος - Alpha GroveAs for the Omegas, London has just three...
α Δρόμος - Alpha Road
α Τέλος - Alpha Close
α Τόπος - Alpha Place
ω Δρόμος - Omega Street...and which one comes last depends entirely on how you choose to translate from English to Greek, so in this case I decided to plump for Omega Street SE14 because that's last in traditional alphabetical order. If you don't like that, sorry, feel free to go to the Alpha and Omega of your choice and then write your own blogpost.
ω Τέλος - Omega Close
ω Τόπος - Omega Place
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, April 22, 2023With the Coronation just two weeks away preparations are reaching fever pitch.
The official logo has been attached to lampposts, flags have been dangled across high streets, thousands of street parties are praying for good weather and numerous chain stores are attempting to gain your custom. If you're in London there may not be much happening round your way but you only have to step outside the capital to see provincial towns taking it seriously. This is the centre of Rickmansworth, for example.
The official coronation.gov.uk website hopes you'll organise a street party, host a Big Lunch or serve your community on Bank Holiday Monday May 8th by volunteering for The Big Help Out. They've also put together a Coronation Toolkit with useful materials to help with your Coronation celebrations, including printable bunting, colouring templates for the kids and topical recipe inspiration. What could be more appropriate for your royal picnic than Gregg Wallace's Prawn Tacos with Pineapple Salsa, Ken Hom's Coronation Roast Rack of Lamb with Asian-style Marinade or Nadiya Hussain's Coronation Aubergine?
If DIY's not your thing, capitalism has got it its act together with all kinds of souvenirs and merchandise available to purchase in a shop near you. WH Smith is going all out to capture the Coronation market with such delights as a Coronation A5 pad, a Coronation ball pen, a Coronation board game, a 4-pack of gold crowns, Coronation eraser toppers, Coronation cupcake cases, various Carolean books, a 61 Piece Party Box and a half-price King Bear. Almost as OTT in their window displays are Ryman with red, white and blue products including tote bags, tablecloths, jigsaws, three-tier cupcake stands, personalisable water bottles, coasters, napkins and paper straws, because they know this is what the mainstream UK consumer wants.
Tesco have punted on paper plates, Coronation cushions, doggy-themed mugs, tea towels, cake stands, picnic blankets and £12 teapots, plus Clubcard deals on gin, pork sausages and Pringles. Meanwhile Iceland's Coronation Essentials range includes Coronation Chicken sandwich filler, Coronation Chicken pasta, limited edition Coronation Pimms, Coronation paper cups and prominent linkage to the official Spotify Coronation playlist. It's perhaps hard to imagine the British public embracing the full range of commercial opportunities during a cost of living crisis, but the last Coronation was in 1953 which was pretty much peak austerity and yet families still hoard their commemorative Coronation mugs and teaspoons to this day.
A Coronation is a once-in-a-generation event, or this time more like once-in-three generations, so how is your local council planning on celebrating it? I've ploughed through 33 borough websites to assemble this clickable list, and tried to outline the major events going on in each. I haven't listed street parties or Big Lunches, only the major stuff, which means some boroughs appear to be penny-pinching lacklustre republicans. Hopefully my bespoke Crown Ratings will help guide you towards the good stuff, if indeed there is any.
♔♔♔ Barking and Dagenham (Sat 6th, 11-5): Free event in Valence Park including a Royal Treasure Hunt, Visit Barkingham Palace, Ride the Royal Rail, The Royal Cress Workshop and a Chas & Dave tribute. Honest.
♔♔♔ Barnet (Mon 8th, 1-9): Free event in Golders Hill Park including "Food and drinks stalls/Live music/Family funfair".
♔ Bexley: Several local events but no big council shindig.
• Brent: Facilitating, not organising.
♔♔ Bromley (Sat 6th): Watch the coronation in Queens Gardens (exact details unfinalised). Also the Mayor will judge a Best Decorated Shop competition.
♔ Camden: "Camden is planning a community event for residents to get involved in and will be announcing times and location ahead of the Coronation weekend."
♔♔ City of London: A few local BIDs are doing stuff, including a Big Lunch in Aldgate Square on Sun 7th.
• Croydon: Facilitating, not organising.
♔♔♔ Ealing (Sat 6th): A free all-day ticketed event in Walpole Park, or unticketed action in Acton Park and Northala Fields.
♔ Enfield (from Fri 5th): Artefacts from the Museum of Enfield collection will be displayed at Dugdale Arts Centre.
♔♔ Greenwich (Sat 6th, 10-4): A ticketed big-screen event in General Gordon Square, Woolwich (already sold out).
• Hackney: Facilitating, not organising.
♔♔♔ Hammersmith and Fulham: A Party/Market in Lyric Square (Sat 6th, 10-4) and picnics in Bishops Park and Ravenscourt Park (Sun 7th, 12-10).
• Haringey: Facilitating, not organising.
♔ Harrow (Fri 5th): Children from local schools will parade along St Anns Road dressed as Kings and Queens.
♔♔ Havering (Sun 7th): A Community Concert and Picnic at Raphael Park (most performers schoolchildren).
♔♔ Hillingdon (Sun 7th): The Mayor's Coronation Picnic in the Park at Fassnidge Park will feature vintage tunes from the Candy Girls.
• Hounslow: Facilitating, not organising.
• Islington: Facilitating, not organising.
♔♔ Kensington and Chelsea (Sat 6th, 1-3): Screening the main event in Holland Park accompanied by jugglers and face-painting.
♔♔♔ Kingston upon Thames (Sun 7th, 2.45-4): A Coronation Parade in the Ancient Market Place (but they're pretending the year is 925 and the king being crowned is Athelstan because that happened here).
• Lambeth: Facilitating, not organising.
♔ Lewisham (Sat 6th, 2-3): Lewisham Concert Band will perform at Mountsfield Park Bandstand (but mainly the only events are in libraries).
• Merton: Facilitating, not organising.
♔ Newham: Library events and a Tuesday tea dance, but all quite low-key.
♔ Redbridge (Sat 6th, 12-5): The inllford Coronation Celebration in the town centre focuses around a Redbridge's Got Talent Competition.
• Richmond upon Thames: Facilitating, not organising.
• Southwark: Facilitating, not organising.
♔ Sutton (Sat 6th, Sun 7th): At Honeywood museum, see mascot Millie the Mouse in her very special coronation costume (but if you're not a child not much is going on in Sutton).
• Tower Hamlets: King Charles III Coronation events? There are no results that match your criteria.
♔ Waltham Forest (Sat 6th, Sun 7th): "A packed weekend of activities at Fellowship Square", it says here, but not really.
♔ Wandsworth (Sat 6th): A big screen in Battersea Park plus a Make Your Own Crown craft workshop.
♔♔♔♔♔ Westminster (Sat 6th): Hosting the actual Coronation.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, April 21, 2023Gladstone Park is the finest park in the London borough of Brent - 90 scenic acres spread across the southern slopes of Dollis Hill. It boasts crisscrossing avenues of plane trees, a freshly-planted orchard, ample space for sport and a lovingly-tended walled garden. At its summit is the 'stabilised ruin' of Dollis Hill House, now just a brick footprint but once home to the Earl of Aberdeen who regularly invited William Gladstone to stay as a holiday guest. When the estate was sold to the borough of Willesden in 1899 they agreed to name their new park Gladstone Park in honour of the Prime Minister who'd died the previous year. If only they'd called it something else today's post might have been avoided.
The summit of Gladstone Park is the best part with its reedy pond, bowling green and views across much of west London. I'd not been for some time so was pleased to see three new flowerbeds had appeared on a patch of lawn, each bursting with densely-planted brightly-coloured spring flowers. Well that's nice, I thought, and then turned my attention to the information boards that had also appeared all along the path around the summit pond. The first I reached was titled "The Early Black Presence in Brent" and cited the first recorded baptism of a black child at Willesden in 1723, plus the fact that pioneering Crimean nurse Mary Seacole was buried (just outside the borough) in Kensal Green Cemetery. Well that's interesting, I thought, but what has this got to do with a hilltop in a park? Such are the dangers of wandering into the middle of a narrative without realising how it started.
These 13 information boards form the "Untold Stories history trail" which was installed last November following Black History Month. The last few boards "celebrate the impact made by people in Brent's Black communities", including Marcus Garvey, Zadie Smith, Lenny Henry, Bob Marley and Janet Kay. Lenny lived in Wembley as a teenager and Bob once stayed in Neasden, if you were wondering. The middle few "amplify the presence of historical Black figures from the borough", which the section I'd first encountered. And the majority "present factual history of the park's links to the transatlantic slave trade", because that's what's spurred all this on. Mr Gladstone, it turns out, has a disputed history.
Gladstone began trading in cotton and sugar from the West Indies in 1803, eventually owning multiple plantation estates on which over 2500 Africans were enslaved. When abolition was proposed in 1806 he argued strongly against, and when it was finally abolished in 1833 he received the largest compensation payment of any trader. On the positive side he used his payout to help fund canals, railways, schools and churches, and very much on the downside he continued to use Indian labour on his plantations under conditions barely different from slavery. All rock solid evidence for the prosecution except that this tainted biography belongs to John Gladstone, a Liverpool merchant, not his son William who became Prime Minister.
William Gladstone was born two years after the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in the British Parliament. That said he got elected to the House of Commons in 1832 just before the actual vote on the ultimate Slavery Abolition Act. That said he didn't vote against abolition because the bill passed unopposed in the wake of William Wilberforce's death the week before. That said he did use his maiden speech to campaign strongly for substantial compensation for enslavers, helping to deliver his father a whopping payout. That said he did later abandon his original viewpoint and campaign for the immediate abolition of slavery worldwide. That said he did believe slaves should undergo some form of "civilisation" process before emancipation. That said at the end of his life he cited slavery as the "foulest crime" in British history. So it's a complicated legacy, but it ended well.
In 2020 the Black Lives Matter campaign shone a spotlight on oppressive history worldwide, and in Britain on our uncomfortable responsibility for enslaving generations of Africans transported to the New World. Many councils and public bodies turned their focus to memorials and institutions with a slave trade connection (and many others dismissed such attention as unnecessary revisionism). In Brent the council noted disquiet in some quarters regarding the legacy of the name 'Gladstone Park' and approved a report suggesting it might be renamed to avoid offence. That hasn't happened since, indeed they've now said it won't, the council's response thus far having been to install the Untold Stories history trail at the heart of the park. It's nowhere near enough say some, it's quite enough say others.
And they also added those flowerbeds. What you can't see from the path is that they're in three very particular shapes, indeed some aren't especially obvious even if you walk over and stand alongside. The long thin bed is in the shape of a ship and this is meant to represent migration. The anchor (which yes, is obvious) represents the shores of Britain and has been aligned to point towards the west coast of Africa. And the third lumpy shape resembling a razorblade in fact represents a double drum, a symbol of action and goodwill used by the medieval peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The complete work is called The Anchor, The Drum, The Ship, designed by Brent-based artist Harun Morrison and horticulturalist Antonia Couling, and is intended as innovative way of interacting with contested history.
Wend up to the top of Gladstone Park and although you might miss the significance of the flowerbeds you can't now miss the Untold Stories history trail. It quite draws the eye as you walk round the pond, where previously you might just have cooed at the waterfowl, snapped sylvan photos of their antics or admired the distant rooftops of Willesden. Something about its inclusion feels forced, as if it's been introduced to counterbalance an argument rather than address a location. This after all is a park named after a champion of other human rights who loved this spot, and by the time he stayed here had shifted his views on slavery to oppose those of his father. But it never hurts to be reminded that Britain's wealth and prestige relied for centuries on plunder and oppression, and we wouldn't be the country we are today had we not persistently exploited others.
You can help make up your own mind by downloading all 13 panels from the Untold Stories history trail here, but how much more evocative to read them in situ at the top of what's still called Gladstone Park.
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